Welders were working 70 feet in the air on a cell phone tower in Bensalem, Bucks County when sparks set off an intense fire ten feet above them. They tried to put it out, but ended up having to race down to get help.
"They rappelled quickly. . .and called 911," said Fred Harran, Public Safety Director for the township.
The fire spread quickly and left the tower, which stands nearly 10 stories high, leaning over precariously. Authorities were afraid gravity would win out and it would come crashing down on top of the township's Public Works Building. But there are also homes and an apartment complex nearby. Anyone who could see the tower burning, could also see it bending and swaying from the heat.
“If the tower was to come down instruments on top of the towers could have become projectiles, exploded on crash and shrapnel may have injured kids playing at the playground.”
Neighbors were ordered to evacuate.
"We moved people out if they were in a 300-foot radius, as we were directed to by engineers to make sure that if the tower did come down there would be no damage to anybody or any property in the area," Harran said.
The fire started around 11:30 a.m. on township property in the 2200 block of Byberry Road. Dark gray smoke at one point could be seen for at least a couple of miles as SkyForce10 approached the fire overhead. Bright orange flames shot out of the top of the A.T. & T. tower, which stands 118 feet. The base burned as well.
Initially, firefighters could not throw water on the fire because electricity was still surging through the tower and it took utility crews longer than expected to get it turned off.
The fire was under control by 1 p.m. but damage to the tower was extensive enough that it has to be taken down piece by piece. Cranes have been brought in to help dismantle the structure tonight. AT&T will then bring in a portable cell service device.
Residents who'd been told to leave were allowed back in their homes by mid-afternoon.
Authorities say they are no longer in danger.
“That area has been secured. We want to assure the public, there is no danger to the public at this point. We made sure that we got here and secured everything. The people of Bensalem and businesses are not in danger, said Sgt. Andrew Aninsman.
A.T. & T. released a statement saying the company was working with local officials to safely take down the tower.
"Our network team is also working to bring in temporary facilities to support wireless service in the area. “
Roads surrounding the tower were shut down while crews worked to safely bring the structure down. Harran says it will probably take 4 to 6 weeks to put a new tower up.
"Nobody's hurt. We had some people who were inconvenienced today," Harran said, "but at the end of the day we have no structural damage to anything but the cell phone tower. . .It was a good day here."